Trader Joe’s Co. v. Hallatt, 981 Fed. Supp. 2d 972 (W.D. Wash. 2013).

This case is currently awaiting a decision from the Ninth Circuit.  Case No. 14-35035.

Facts and Procedural History:

Trader Joe’s, a specialty United States (“U.S.”) grocery store, filed a Lanham Act trademark infringement and dilution action against Canadian grocery store owner, Michael Hallatt.  To stand apart from its competition in the U.S., “Trader Joe’s developed a rustic South Pacific-inspired theme.”  Brief for Appellant at 6, Trader Joe’s Co. v. Hallatt, (No. 14-35035).  Although Trader Joe’s has a website that displays its products, Trader Joe’s only sells its products at its retail grocery stores in order “[t]o maintain the exclusivity of its branded products.”  Brief for Appellant at 7, Trader Joe’s Co. v. Hallatt, (No. 14-35035).  Trader Joe’s has received several U.S. trademark registrations for its marks, including “the word TRADER JOE’S for retail store services in the field of specialty foods and beverages (Trademark Reg. No. 2,171,157); for processed foods (Trademark Reg. No. 1,424,176); and for beverages (Trademark Reg. No. 2,158,990).”  Brief for Appellant at 10, Trader Joe’s Co. v. Hallatt, (No. 14-35035).  Moreover, Trader Joe’s owns a registration for its stylized word mark TRADER JOE’S for retail services.  Id.  Trader Joe’s operates more than 390 retail grocery stores in “30 states and the District of Columbia, including 14 stores in the state of Washington.”  Trader Joes Co. v. Hallatt, 981 Fed. Supp. 2d at 974.

Appellee, Michael Norman Hallatt, is a U.S. resident alien and a Canadian citizen. Trader Joes Co. v. Hallatt, 981 Fed. Supp. 2d at 976.  Hallatt “owns and operates a grocery store in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, operating under the name Pirate Joe’s.”  Id. at 975.  Hallatt’s store previously operated under the name “Transilvania Trading.”  Id.  Hallatt concedes that “he and others at his direction have purchased products at Trader Joe’s paying full retail prices in the state of Washington.”  Id.  Hallatt then transported the products across state borders to Canada and sold the goods unmodified in Pirate Joe’s.  Id.  Hallatt also “publically acknowledges the products he sells were purchased from Trader Joe’s.”  Id.

According to Trader Joe’s Opening Brief, Pirate Joe’s displays an identical South Pacific themed trade dress.  Brief for Appellant at 11, Trader Joe’s Co. v. Hallatt, (No. 14-35035) (“Pirate Joe’s is decorated in a manner evocative of Trader Joe’s famous and distinctive trade dress, including a colorful mural depicting a ship at sea, products sold on wooden shelves and in baskets, and hand-drawn signage.”).  Hallatt admitted that Pirate Joe’s used Trade Joe’s paper grocery bags in the past, but alleges that such practice has ceased. Trader Joes Co. v. Hallatt, 981 Fed. Supp. 2d at 975.  Unpleased by Hallatt’s actions, Trader Joe’s alleged that Pirate Joe’s used its marks to pass as an approved Trader Joe’s retailer.  Id.  As such, Trader Joe’s filed its Complaint in federal court against Hallatt, alleging trademark infringement, unfair competition, and federal trademark dilution.  Id.  Trader Joe’s also brought claims under state court.  Subsequently, Hallatt moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that the Lanham Act should not apply extraterritorially in this case.  Id.

Reasoning and Holding:

Upon Hallatt’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the Washington District Court engaged in a lengthy analysis of the extraterritorial application of the Lanham Act.  See Trader Joes Co. v. Hallatt, 981 Fed. Supp. 2d at 976-81.  The court recited the Ninth Circuit’s three Timberlane factors that the Circuit uses to determine whether extraterritorial application is appropriate: “(1) the defendant’s actions creates some effect on American foreign commerce, (2) the effect is sufficiently great to present a cognizable injury to plaintiff under the Lanham Act, and (3) ‘the interests of and links to American foreign commerce [are] sufficiently strong in relation to those of other nations to justify an assertion of extraterritorial authority.’”  Trader Joes Co. v. Hallatt, 981 Fed. Supp. 2d at 976 (citing Reebok Int’l v. Marnatch Enters., 970 F.2d 552, 554 (9th Cir. 1992)).

The court found that all three factors disfavored extraterritorial application.  In its analysis, the court combined the first two factors of the Timberlane test, stating that a plaintiff need only demonstrate that there is “some” effect on U.S. foreign commerce.  Trader Joes Co. v. Hallatt, 981 Fed. Supp. 2d at 977 (citing to Wells Fargo & Co. v. Wells Fargo Express Co., 556 F.2d 406, 428 (9th Cir. 1977)).  The court reasoned that “all alleged infringement takes place in Canada and Trader Joe’s cannot show economic harm,” so “there is no economic harm to Trader Joe’s because the products were purchased at Trader Joe’s at retail price.”  Id. at 977.  Comparing this case to Love v. Associated Newspapers, Ltd., 611 F.3d 601 (9th Cir. 2010), the court found the chance of confusion in Canada is likewise too great a stretch to claim harm in the U.S.  Id. (“Like in Love, any ‘goodwill’ related harm is too tenuous to support a cognizable Lanham Act claim when all infringing conduct is abroad.”).

The court balanced seven other relevant factors in analyzing the third factor of the Timberlane test.  Trader Joes Co. v. Hallatt, 981 Fed. Supp. 2d at 978.  Those seven relevant factors include: “The degree of conflict with foreign law or policy, the nationality or allegiance of the parties and the locations or principal places of business of corporations, the extent to which enforcement by either state can be expected to achieve compliance, the relative significance of effects on the United States as compared with those elsewhere, the extent to which there is explicit purpose to harm or affect American commerce, the foreseeability of such effect, and the relative importance to the violations charged of conduct within the United States as compared with conduct abroad.” Id. at 978 (citing Reebok, 970 F.2d at 555).  The only one of the seven relevant factors that the court found in favor of Trader Joe’s was nationality or allegiance of parties and locations of corporations.  Specifically, the court concluded that “Hallatt’s connections with the U.S. are likely sufficient to support extraterritorial jurisdiction.”  Id. at 979.  The court, nevertheless, decided that application of the Lanham Act could potentially conflict with Canada’s trademark law (and Trader Joe’s had two pending trademark applications in Canada).  Id.  After an evaluation of the Timberlane factors, the court found that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction in this case.  Id. at 980.

Two months after the decision, Judge Marsha J. Pechman dismissed Trader Joe’s remaining state law claims, finding that no party in the lawsuit was a Washington resident, all of the alleged wrongful conduct occurred out of state, and any harm to Washington residents was “extremely tangential.”  Order Granting Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint at 10-11.  As such, Judge Pechman dismissed the case with prejudice. Trader Joes Co. v. Hallatt, 981 Fed. Supp. 2d at 981; Order Granting Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint at 11.

Appeal:

Trader Joe’s appealed the district court decision.  In its Opening Brief, Trader Joe’s argues that the Lanham Act “is one of the few statues that Congress specifically extended beyond the borders of [the U.S.]”  Brief for Appellant at 27 (citing Steele v. Bulova Watch Co., 344 U.S. 280, 283, 286 (1952)), Trader Joe’s Co. v. Hallatt, (No. 14-35035).  Trader Joe’s asserts that Pirate Joe’s conduct is analogous to the defendant’s conduct in SteeleId. at 30-31.  Specifically, Trader Joe’s contends that “Hallatt’s activities in the United States – most notably obtaining goods from Trader Joe’s stores – were ‘essential steps in the course of business consummated abroad,’” and therefore, the U.S. purchases were part of Hallatt’s “unlawful scheme.”  Id. at 31 (citing Steele, 344 U.S. at 287).  Accordingly, Trader Joe’s submits that “[b]ecause the scheme directly involves U.S. domestic commerce, there is no need to consider whether Hallatt’s activity has ‘some effect’ on U.S. foreign commerce.”  Id. at 34 (citing Reebok Int’l Ltd. V. Marnatech Enters., Inc., 737 F. Supp. 1515, 1518 (S.D. Cal. 1989)).

Nevertheless, Trader Joe’s asserts that the Timberlane factors are satisfied in this case.  Brief for Appellant at 35, Trader Joe’s Co. v. Hallatt, (No. 14-35035).  Addressing the first two Timberlane factors jointly, Trader Joe’s argues that a customer who purchases a defective product – a product that does not adhere to Trader Joe’s quality control procedures – from Pirate Joe’s “would not be able to tell whether the defect is the fault of Trader Joe’s,” and thus “the customer would likely view Trader Joe’s less favorably, causing harm to the reputation and goodwill that Trader Joe’s has carefully cultivated over the past 40 years.”  Id. at 36-37.  Trader Joe’s contends that any issues with TRADER JOE’S branded products sold at Pirate Joe’s “would inevitably travel back to the United States, where it would injure Trader Joe’s reputation and goodwill.”  Id. at 37.

Trader Joe argues that the third Timberlane factor also favors a finding of subject matter jurisdiction. Id. at 42.  Likewise, Trader Joe’s accesses all seven sub-factors.  For the third sub-factor, Trader Joe’s asserts that because “Hallatt . . . admitted to hiring people in the state of Washington to purchase TRADER JOE’S-branded products for him,” he has “an even stronger ‘presence’ in the United States.”  Id. at 47 (citation omitted).  As such, Trader Joe’s asserts that Hallatt orchestrated the activities in the U.S. and is a permanent U.S. alien, his presence in the U.S. is strong, despite his Canadian citizenship.  Id.  Further, Trader Joe’s argues that the sixth sub-factor weighs in its favor because “[i]t was entirely foreseeable that by selling TRADER JOE’S-branded goods outside Trader Joe’s quality control structure, the goodwill and reputation of a U.S. company would be hurt in the United States.”  Id. at 49 (citing to Reebok, 970 F.2d at 557 (finding it “undeniabl[y]” foreseeable that defendant’s products sold in Mexico border towns would damage plaintiff’s brand in the United States).

Finally, Trader Joe’s claims that the district court erred in dismissing Trader Joe’s state law dilution claim and its CPA claim.  Id. at 50-57.  Focusing on the fact that Trader Joe’s operates 18 stores in Washington, Trader Joe’s asserts that a large portion of the resulting dilution from sick Vancouver residents will be felt in Washington.  Id. at 54.  Also, Trader Joe’s argues that the defendant’s conduct in “trade or commerce” is satisfied because “Hallatt engages in a persistent pattern of ‘trade or commerce’ by traveling into Washington, purchasing products from Trader Joe’s stores. . ., exporting the goods to Canada, and reselling them.”  Id. at 57.  Accordingly, Trader Joe’s urges the Ninth Circuit to reverse the district court’s decision.

Hallatt, on the other hand, argues that the district court properly dismissed Trader Joe’s Lanham Act claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, reiterating the district court’s reasoning.  Brief for Appellee at 10-20.  Hallatt analyzes the seven sub-factors of the Timberlane test and echoes the district court’s reasoning with all but one factor – the only factor found against him.  Id. at 32.  Finally, Hallatt argues that the district court properly dismissed Trader Joe’s state law claims and Washington Consumer Protection Act claims.  Id. at 39-54.

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